In the spirit of the Thanksgiving season, let’s take a minute to step back and take stock of the best units available to Chaos players right now. We have a lot of things to be thankful to the Dark Gods for. Let’s celebrate them!
I also decided to include some lists that use these units really creatively. Let’s get started with not only the strongest Chaos unit, but arguably the best unit in the entire game.
There’s more to evaluating a unit in 40K than just its raw damage output. Some units can be elite because of their ability to buff other units, even if their own stats aren’t that great.
Abaddon is nothing like that, because in his free time when he isn’t buffing other units, he one-shots two Knights in a single Fight phase.
Abaddon’s datasheet reads like a narrative datasheet from a Crusade campaign that just got entirely out of control. Here’s what you get for not much more than the cost of a Redemptor Dreadnought:
- An aura of exploding 5’s and 6’s to hit in melee, which also affects himself
- A full hit reroll aura in both shooting and melee
- An aura for complete morale immunity, which works across Legions
- 8 Wounds, T5, 2+/4++
- Halve all incoming damage, making him very durable
- 7 attacks at S10/AP4/Dd3 and d6 attacks at S6/AP3/D3
- Access to a Fight twice stratagem
- Perfect keywords for outrageous synergies, like 1CP for +1 to Wound or a 5+++ Feel-No-Pain psychic power
Oh and what the hell, he also just gives you 2CP. Why not?
Let’s have a bit of fun with the numbers. With no buff besides 1CP for Veterans of the Long War, Abaddon averages 23 wounds to a Knight. With Diabolic Strength, he averages 28. With Prescience (to get exploding 4’s instead of 5’s), he averages 27. Near an Exalted Champ, he averages 29. With all of those buffs, he averages… 39 wounds to a Knight. That’s obviously not realistic, but it just goes to show you that he is both amazing by himself and also takes buffs very well.
Abaddon’s only real weakness is being stuck in Black Legion. If you’re running Chaos Space Marines competitively, Abaddon is good enough that you might want to run a Black Legion Patrol with Abaddon as your Warlord and some units for him to buff/buff him and then a larger detachment with the Legion you really want to run.
Sample Abaddon List (TJ Lanigan, GW Austin Open)
- Black Legion Patrol
- Abaddon, Warlord
- Sorceror, Warptime, Delightful Agonies, Council of Traitors (Flames of Spite, Ghorvex’s Teeth)
- 1 x 10 Cultists
- Death Guard Spearhead
- 4 Deathshroud Terminators, Plague Skull of Glothila
- Biologus Putrifier
- 3 x Plagueburst Crawlers
- Daemons Patrol
- The Changeling
- 20 Bloodletters, Banner of Blood
- 30 Pink Horrors
- 58 Reinforcement Points
#2: Dark Disciples
I unironically believe Dark Disciples (the optional upgrade for a Dark Apostle that counts a separate unit) are arguably the best unit in Chaos for their points cost. Furies are also incredible in their role. I won’t include them in the list because no one wants to read about points efficient action monkeys with some jank.
I’m just going to use this opportunity to point out Dark Disciples get both Legion traits and Hateful Assault, meaning World Eaters Dark Disciples get 3 attacks each on the charge and 2 attacks on the second activation. This means it is possible for a unit of Dark Disciples to spend 3CP to fight twice and kill Roboute Guilliman, who has a mere 9 Wounds and will drown under the 10 attacks from a unit of Dark Disciples.
Let’s pretend I never wrote that and just move on to the next unit.
Sample Dark Disciples List (Mike Pestilens, #1 List of LVO 2022)
- World Eaters Supreme Command Detachment
- 200 units of Dark Disciples
As I said, let’s just move on to the next unit.
#2: Scarab Occult Terminators
I haven’t changed my opinion on anything in 9th Edition as hard as I have changed my opinion on Scarab Occult Terminators.
I didn’t want to like them at first. Death Guard and Chaos Space Marines were already armies that could be built around their Terminators. I didn’t want another Chaos faction built around their Terminators. I should have known that Terminators will always be back.
Easily hitting on 2’s rerolling 1’s with high AP in both shooting and melee, Scarabs can be incredibly killy while stacking defensive buffs to present a real challenge for opponents to deal with. They are also ObSec, and can bring back 1 or 2 models each turn in the Cult of Time.
The only thing that worries me about Scarabs is the emergence of Hive Guard as a serious consideration. Scarabs soak D2 or D3 shots well, but high volumes of Dd3 artillery that ignores cover is pretty rough for them. The counterpoint is that Scarabs kill Tyranids extremely well, and if they are pouring firepower into your Scarabs then they aren’t shooting your Rubrics or other units pushing up the field. And then even if they kill 5-6 Terminators out of line of sight every turn, you’re going to make sure to bring 2 back each turn. I’m talking myself back into this.
Few units bully their area of the board like Scarab Occult Terminators. You can’t steal their objectives because they are ObSec, you can’t put weak units into them, you can’t tag them in melee, and you can’t handle their damage output. What an incredibly well-rounded unit.
Sample Scarab Terminator List (Justin Curtis, 5-0 at Da Boyz GT)
- Cult of Time Patrol
- Exalted Sorcerer
- Infernal Master
- 1 x 29 Cultists
- 1 x 10 Scarab Occult Terminators, Rites of Coalescence, 2 Soulreaper Cannons, 2 Hellfyre Missile Racks, Doombolt
- Cult of Duplicity Battalion
- Infernal Master
- 2 x 5 Rubrics with Bolters and Icons
- 1 x 10 Rubrics with Warpflamers
- 1 x 20 Tzaangors
- 2 x 5 Chaos Spawn
Epidemius takes the idea of “synergy” and just cranks it up to 11. Or 33. Or 77.
Epidemius’s synergy with Daemon Engines and Be’lakor and Mortarion is just incredible. Strength 8 Foetid Bloat Drones… Plagueburst Crawlers rerolling 1’s as early as turn 1 after killing some MSU’s with their mortars… Toughness 9 Mortarion or Plagueburst Crawlers… Epidemius’s best buffs are easy to acquire after killing 2, 4, or 5 units and don’t have a range limitation.
What I love about Epidemius is not just his raw strength of the tabletop, but just how Chaos-y he is. Nothing captures the feeling of playing Chaos competitively like Epidemius’s ancient datasheet fueling soups of fun units from 3 different codices.
PLEASE go out and play an Epidemius Daemon Engine list at least once before Daemons get a new codex. It’s a playstyle that is incredibly fun but will almost certainly get taken away in their next codex.
Also a funny note: Epidemius only buffs your Nurgle Daemons, but his tally increases whenever any Nurgle Daemon kills a unit. Facing someone’s Mortarion? Feed them your Cultists or other weak units to power up your own tally.
Sample Epidemius List (Franco McDonnell, 2nd Place at Twisted Onslaught GT)
- Death Guard Supreme Command Detachment
- Nurgle Daemons Patrol
- 3 x 3 Nurglings
- 2 x 5 Furies
- Nurgle Outrider
- 1 x 2 Spawn
- 2 x 1 Spawn
- 2 x Foetid Bloat Drones, Fleshmowers
- 2 x Plagueburst Crawlers
#4: Plagueburst Crawlers
I don’t think Chaos fans really appreciate what we have in Plagueburst Crawlers. Seriously, stop and think about it for a second! We’re at 5+ straight years of Plagueburst Crawlers being a strong unit. This is absolutely crazy by competitive 40K standards.
“Something + 3 Plagueburst Crawlers” is still a very strong list archetype.
Plagueburst Crawlers have been the rarest of things for Chaos fans: A non-named Character that is consistently worth it’s points.
I’m going to throw Foetid Bloat Drones in here too, even though this entry is mainly for Plagueburst Crawlers. Foetid Bloat Drones with Fleshmowers are just great value, combining mobility with durability and a high volume of quality attacks. The only issue is Foetid Bloat Drones really want to be S8 instead of S7. If only there was another unit on this list that helped Foetid Bloat Drones achieve their full potential…
Sample Plagueburst Crawler list: See Epidemius
#5: Khorne Lords of Skulls
I’ve written about Lords of Skulls before extensively, so I’ll simply repeat this: It is truly outrageous you can get full hit and wound rerolls on a Lord of War for 1CP. With a brilliant non-degrading datasheet and a variety of easily accessible buffs, Lords of Skulls should be a serious consideration for literally any Legion that can take Khorne marked units.
Sample Lord of Skulls List (Sondre Skar, 4-1 at Invasion 40K GT)
- Iron Warriors Battalion
- Lord Discordant on Helstaker, Insidium
- Master of Possession, Daemonsmith, Cursed Earth, Infernal Power
- Sorcerer with Jump Pack, Warptime, Death Hex
- Iron Warriors Superheavy Detachment
- 3 x Khorne Lord of Skulls, Ichor Cannons
Be’lakor continues the long history of “big flying thing smacking people with a sword” being an elite Chaos unit. With Magnus completely falling to the wayside (I don’t even want to talk about how disappointed I am at Magnus in the new Thousand Sons codex), Mortarion and Be’lakor has become the new Bash Bros.
Be’lakor provides something Daemons didn’t have before: A very durable Greater Daemon type unit that is also outrageously killy. Even if you’re running a mono-God Daemons army, Be’lakor is still a must take for all four Gods.
Be’lakor has one really underrated aspect: He basically has two psychic powers that make an opposing unit fight last. One is a standard 3d6 Leadership check that makes an opposing unit fight last. The other power he brings gives a unit -1 to Wound in melee, which is like a fight last effect offensively. You can throw it on a unit to give you safe multi-charges without worrying about an interrupt. Since aggressive Chaos lists are often very vulnerable to combat interrupts, these psychic powers are a great tool to have. Betraying Shades also provides a useful way to get some targeted psychic damage, an extremely rare tool in Chaos Daemons for some reason.
Being able to use the Slaanesh Daemons stratagem for a -1 Attack aura is good clean fun, and makes him a real beast to bring down in melee. S12 attacks that ignore invulns also tear through Dreadknights with ease. When Be’lakor is on the table (and you have other Daemon units that can spam the Daemonic Incursion stratagem), the daemon hunters become the hunted.
Sample Be’lakor List (Scott LaFountain)
- Slaanesh Daemons Battalion
- 3 x Exalted Keepers of Secrets
- 3 x 10 Daemonettes
- 1 x 2 Fiends
- Undivided Daemons Battalion
- Be’lakor, Betraying Shades, Pall of Despair
- Lord of Change, Warlord, Incorporeal Form, Impossible Robe
- Poxbringer, Virulent Blessing
- 3 x 3 Nurglings
- 2 x 1 Beasts of Nurgle
Mortarion was a unit that myself and many others kind of forgot about as the edition went on. He was very durable, and then AdMech came out, and he was no longer durable.
With AdMech receiving the game’s biggest nerf and the number of AdMech players plummeting off a cliff, Mortarion is as dangerous as he has ever been. He’s a true terror for Ork Buggy/Plane lists to deal with and just gobbles up Knights. I do worry that the increased prevalence of mono Knights lists (including outrageously killy Chaos Knights lists) means Mortarion will become more vulnerable again, but for the time being Mortarion is back to being an excellent tool for Chaos players.
Sample Mortarion list: See Epidemius
Ahriman is in the Plagueburst Crawler category of “Auto-includes for as long as you can remember”. Full rerolls to cast and the Cabalistic Ritual system make him a mortal wound machine gun. He will reliably look at any visible character and just pick them up. The amount of times I’ve immediately removed a 5 wound Character with a single Tzeentch’s Firestorm and the ritual for an additional d3 mortal wounds is ridiculous.
Ahriman also has the most consistently surprising flat 3 damage melee in the game. I admit, I take wayyyyy too much enjoyment out of the fact that Ahriman has a more damaging melee weapon than Trajann Valoris.
There’s really not much more to say about Ahriman. He’s just an incredibly valuable caster that is always a great addition to both pure Thousand Sons and Chaos soup lists.
#9: Noise Marines
Noise Marines are an amazing unit that are suffering from a meta that’s not very friendly to them. They are okay but not great into 2+ Saves (before cover, since they ignore that), and those are increasingly common these days. They also suffer from -1 Damage effects, although not as much as people might suppose. I’ve found my Noise Marines are still consistently picking up Redemptor Dreadnoughts when they come down from their Drop Pod, even if it costs me more CP than I would like.
I almost considered dropping them from this list, but their saving grace was the Death To The False Emperor change making Noise Marines with an Icon of Excess into underrated melee blenders. Don’t forget that they have 3 attacks each on the charge, and can still hit many units incredibly hard with a charge out of deepstrike after they shoot.
And as long as they can shoot on death, they are going to create opportunities for even very strong opponents to either make a misplay or completely alter their game plan in response to them being on the board.
Sample Noise Marine List (Dante Thunderstone, 4th place at Da Boyz GT)
- Emperor’s Children Battalion
- Dark Apostle, Remnant of the Maraviglia
- Sorceror, Warlord, Unholy Fortitude, Combi-melta, Warptime, Prescience
- 3 x 10 Noise Marines with Sonic Blasters and Blastmasters, Combi-melta on champ
- 3 x Contemptor Dreadnought with Volkite and Missiles
- 3 x Terrax Termite Drill
#10: Contemptor Dreadnoughts
Damn it. I SO BADLY wanted to find 10 better units and leave these off the list, but I just couldn’t. Their combination of great weapon options and durability has made them a staple of almost every Chaos faction that could take them. Death Guard, Thousand Sons, and Chaos Space Marines all have some very strong synergies for them.
So let’s just take this chance to talk about their weapon options. As Russell Tassin discussed in our interview, people seem to have agreed Volkites are the “best” loadout and then just never reconsidered that initial assumption. With so many good armour saves and -1 Damage out there, it’s at least worth considering other weapons on your Contemptors besides the Volkite. The only clear exception would be in Emperor’s Children or Iron Warriors, where the ability to get full Wound rerolls makes the Volkites into consistent monsters.
The Lascannons are a bit overpriced, but really do give Chaos armies some long range anti-tank shooting on durable platforms that they usually otherwise lack. I’ve also been looking hard at the Chainfist. With the meta trending towards vehicles, walking forward and dispensing some flat 6 damage love taps sounds like a fun time for everyone. My preferred loadout for my Emperor’s Children Contemptors may be switching to 1 Chainfist and 1 Volkite arm instead of double Volkite arms.
Sometimes it’s necessary to step back and make sure we’re considering all of our strongest tools. A lot of the Death Guard units especially seem to have been forgotten about because the faction as a whole has slipped a bit and is no longer the newest and shiniest Chaos codex, but Death Guard have a ton to offer players of other Chaos factions in their lists too.
Hopefully if you aren’t currently playing one of the units on this list, this helps you get excited to try it out and see what your hands and playstyle can do with it. As always, have fun, stay safe, and may the Dark Gods bless your rolls!
Note: Excited to get your Chaos army on the tabletop? Me too! I’d love to work with you on making your fun or weird Chaos idea into a competitive list. If you’re interested in supporting the growth of Warphammer and quality 40K writing, feel free to check out Patreon.com/Warphammer and join the team. Additional benefits and coaching are available.
Interested in learning more about playing Chaos? Check out the Warphammer Discord here: https://discord.gg/SgBcXW5s6R
Published: November 26th, 2021. Last Updated: November 26th, 2021.
This Post Has 5 Comments
Why are you upset with Magnus in the 9e TSons codex and why is -1 to wound equal to a “fight last” effect?
You take that back about Trajann Valoris. (fights back tears) We’ll get better, we’ll get better…
And Goonhammer suggested there’s play in the idea of a Contemptor chainfist going into a an enemy squad with the DG Haze of Corruption strat (damage spillover not wasted) active, which you’ve probably thought about as well.
Q1: Losing Warptime to get extra movement on him really hurts. We used to be able to have Magnus dump out MW and then fly back to safety. Now he is just stuck close if he is doing damage, and very vulnerable. Still one of the best looking models in the game at least!
Q2: It’s not a “fight last”, but it often tips the scales to where you won’t really care if they interrupt. Like if you have a Greater Daemon that charged a unit of Bladeguard with a lot of S5 attacks. That interrupt might hurt, but if they only wound on 6’s, you don’t really care anymore. But it’s definitely that’s situational. Sometimes it won’t be enough
I love the idea of the Chainfist Contemptor in DG with damage spillover, and have thought about running one myself. Currently I think the Volkites with Tollkeeper are a bit too good to pass up. But once we (inevitably) see a points hike on the Volkites… it’ll open up a lot of space for people to experiment with more Contemptor options. With Knights and Dreadknights everywhere, that flat 6 damage vs Vehicles is brilliant.
Thanks for the insights, Mr. Pestilens.
Do you think Magnus has a place in a TSons army that wants to compete at the tournament level, whether it’s RTT level or a higher level?
In addition, I know you played some Custodes as well as Daemons before starting this blog. You have any interest in the new Custodes codex coming out in (hopefully) less than a month?
Hey Mike, You never seemed to run Noise Marines in full x20 squads,
For how expensive CP they are, why not?
Hey Johnny! My main worry is delivery. Running 10+ in a decent transport requires a Kharybdis instead of a Dreadclaw. So add 400+ for the Kharybdis, 400+ for the Noise Marines, some supporting characters, and it just becomes a bit skewed. Would rather keep it at a medium level of investment and get more pieces to cause havoc all around the board
But you’re right that a full 20 Noise Marines is an extremely efficient use of buffs. The damage they wreak against armies like Knights that cant hide is absolutely nuclear!